by Ilene Gould
The band is standing in the tunnel anxiously waiting to burst out on the field for their pregame performance. There’s 37 minutes left on the clock before game time. SMB director Dr. David Thornton steps up to the ladder, raises his arms, and says, “Let’s sing.”
Instruments are placed on the ground or stuck between legs; arms are lifted over each other and the band begins to hum the opening E flat of Shadows. The band sings in beautiful four-part harmony, coming together in this moment to “sing our love for Alma Mater.” On the word “love,” Dr. Thornton places his hand on his heart, whether on purpose or by accident, and smiles at the band.
It’s a humbling experience for those of the SMB to stand in a place where so many have come before them, but the Gameday Experience is surrounded by little moments like this. It’s a routine that never gets old.
While every section experiences Saturdays in East Lansing a little differently, we talked to the Mellophones about these little moments and what makes Gameday so memorable to them.
Senior Mellophone Nathan Doss, says that on his very first Gameday he remembers “walking across a dead quiet Adams field, a faint haze over the grass, with the sun barely starting to rise. The energy in the air was spine chilling. It was almost as if Adams field itself was trembling with anticipation.”
This anticipation is often called the “Christmas Eve Syndrome” – the inability to wait another moment. Junior Mellophone Section Leader Joey Essenburg says, “You know whenever you’re on vacation and you have something super exciting the next day so you wake up at 5am to get ready for it? That’s what Gamedays are like for the Mellos.”
On these early morning Gamedays, the Mellophone squad leaders bring treats and snacks for their squad, while waiting on the sidewalk to watch the color guard and drumline march “the series” from Dem Hall to the Practice Field. With cell phones out to record these moments, everyone is cheering, smiling, and laughing, forgetting for just a moment that it’s 6:30 in the morning.
Doss says, “the Gameday experience as a Mellophone is the ultimate team experience.” It’s about making sure everyone is there for each other, supporting each other every step of the way. To demonstrate their teamwork, every Gameday on Adams Field, the Mellos make one long line, reach over each other’s instruments, and play Pregame Fight while fingering the tune on the instrument to their left.
But perhaps the most poignant moment for the Mellos on Gameday, is shortly after they play Pregame Fight during their warmup. They get into two circles with the squad leaders in the middle, kneeling down on the grass. Squad Leaders hold hands and pass around a kiss on the back of each hand, and then the section leader says, “inside to the right, outside to the left.” The squad leaders stand, wrap their arms around each other and they all begin the infamous Mello chant.
“Spartan Mellos, brass playing war machines, trained to fight, trained to kill, trained to die, but never will.” This is repeated three times as the section sways and jumps back and forth gaining in intensity each time. Senior Bailey Barry says that “the words inspire strength and power- two qualities that are essential for everything that follows.”
This chant is something that’s gone on so long, no one is really sure anymore as to where it started, but it represents something much larger than just the chant itself. Freshman Madeline Steffke says that “the Mello chant is about our dedication to the band and to each other. It means that we are ready and willing to sacrifice it all for the group, but we will never surrender in the face of a challenge.” Essenburg follows with, “when you are a Spartan Mello you are a part of something much greater than yourself. You have the opportunity to be an amazing force within the ensemble.”
The energy from the Mello chant carries through the section onto the full band warm-up, through “the series,” and into the tunnel. As the clock reads 25 minutes, the band runs into the tunnel to line up, and the chaos begins to ensue. People are cheering and shouting, hyping each other up for the iconic kick step into pregame.
Doss says that “the tunnel is the most electric environment that I have ever experienced. Adrenaline is flowing so fast that you don’t know whether to laugh, cry, scream, or maybe do a combination of the three. There isn’t any one emotion that can describe it, but I like to think of it as riding the line between anxiety and crippling excitement. It’s my favorite place to be in the whole world.
Senior Mel MacLachlan says that “everyone is pumped up and ready to get out on the field to show everyone what we are made of. We are such a hard working ensemble and it feels so good to show everyone that our hard work pays off!” At 19 minutes, the drum-line begins the cadence, and the Spartan Marching Band kicksteps out of the tunnel into a sea of 75,000 fans.
Gameday isn’t just about the performances for the fans, it’s about the little moments and the little traditions throughout each section and throughout the band that make this day special. Whether it’s singing Shadows in the tunnel, warming up on Adams field, or watching the guard and drumline march over, throughout all of this, there is one thing present – the sense of family. Singing Shadows and looking around the ensemble seeing not only friends, but seeing family is what makes Gamedays so special. MacLachlan says, “Game days are hard work but at the end of the day, it’s worth it. All the support from friends, family, and fans is overwhelming. I am very thankful.”